Might and Delight (them off Shelter and Shelter 2 parent-sim fame) have a small social project tied into the Shelter-verse called Meadow [official site]. I’d mostly stayed away because I didn’t ever warm to the Shelter series, but I took a dip into the “forum in games clothing” and was pleasantly surprised by a lot of little joyful moments.
The idea is that the developers have taken the world of Shelter – those stylised patchwork pastoral scenes – and converted it to a social area where you can run around as a small animal, interacting with other player-controlled animals or with bits of the environment. The interactions with other people don’t involve chat, so you make use of emotes and symbols to offer an idea of the sentiment you want to express and then you can augment that with squeaking and jumping and so on. There are touches of Journey in the sense of those vague but human interactions.
I recorded part of my play session last night so you can see how it works a bit better:
The environmental stuff I found a bit weaker. You’re running about collecting glowing plants and crystals which bestow essence and that helps you unlock emotes and new animal skins etc. There are also stones with which to interact – these stress the social side as they take multiple people to open them up and sometimes you’ll need a specific animal.
I think that the thing I found most offputting about the game was the lack of explanation. I think it’s supposed to be this intuitive experience and I’ll admit that I didn’t struggle particularly once I’d played for a minute or two, but I’m not sure how much of that was having played the previous games and being conversant with games in general. I can imagine someone booting into a grove (that’s the name for the little servers) and being a bit overwhelmed by the wall of emotes. It feels like an intro video would help enormously with that side of things, just so you can watch people interacting a little and then start feeling it out for yourself.
Oh, and one final observation: the graphics menu offers “culling” as a variable which, given I was playing as a badger cub, was DEEPLY CONCERNING.
Meadow is £1.99 over on Steam and can be played without owning any of the previous games, although if you did happen to have them you’ll get a few extra unlocks (you can be a lynx if you own Shelter 2, for example). Despite my previous ambivalence about the franchise I found it thoroughly charming.